Through the prison walls: using published poetry to explore current UK prisoners’ narratives of past, present and future selves

DeValiant, Georgina; McGrath, Laura and Kougiali, Zetta (2019). Through the prison walls: using published poetry to explore current UK prisoners’ narratives of past, present and future selves. Qualitative Research in Psychology (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14780887.2018.1442701

Abstract

Background: Prison is a complex, hierarchical environment which has been shown to both prompt existential reflection and act as a barrier to authentic emotional expression. The risks associated with emotional expression within prison are further suggested to inhibit forms of self-reflection crucial to successful desistance. This article explores the use of poetry as a practice and a research method within such an environment.

Method: Using narrative thematic analysis, poems published in Inside Times magazine were examined, selected because of a focus on inmate subjectivity.

Findings: Findings focus on the emotional, reflective, and transportational qualities of poetry. We explore the capacity of poetry to both mediate reflexive, emotional experiences, and mitigate counter-therapeutic aspects of secure environments.

Implications: We suggest shifting professional’s focus from changing inmate behaviours to the creation of “safe spaces”or atmospheres within prison which will allow inmates the opportunity for emotional authenticity and the exploration of non-criminal selves.

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